Tulum: Third Time Isn’t a Charm

Tulum Mexico-1

The tree-lined highway wizzed past our window as we stared out.

“I know where we are!”

It is weird when you continue to return to the same part of the world over and over again. We were about to head into our third visit to Tulum, Mexico and it just felt right. We had so many fantastic memories from our visits two years before, we couldn’t wait to do it again.

Tulum Mexico-3

As we stepped off the bus from Chetumal, waves of nostalgia rolled over me.

I knew this city.

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We turned right out of the station and headed to the hostel we had visited twice before. I kept turning to Shaun asking, “I wonder if Eric remembers us? I wonder if he is even there!”

Two years is a long time for a city that was booming with tourism… and in those two years, it seemed to have grown right past us.

Tulum Mexico-11

Seriously killer sunsets.

We walked into our hostel and right away I saw Eric, the hostel manager. We were met with a huge grin, “HEY! The bloggers! It has been a long time!”

Being remembered is an awesome feeling.

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I looked around in awe. This tiny and comfortable hostel had grown leaps and bounds. Eric was no longer the only one in charge (his older uncle as well), they had gotten their jacuzzi up and running, rearranged a bit, and added a third floor for a soon to be bar/restaurant. But for us, there were no more free bikes and no more free snorkeling equipment. For a hostel that is easily 25-30 minutes from the beach by bike, this was going to be a problem for us as we were on a super budget. My small community had suddenly grown into a “real” hostel. All good though – I’m happy for them! Upward and onwards, right?

Tulum Mexico-12Tulum Mexico-10

As we made our way around the city, we noticed a few changes:

  • Bars and restaurants had closed and new ones had opened.
  • I was really looking forward to heading to the Mustache Mescal Bar but it, too, had disappeared.
  • Oxxos had taken over every corner.
  • Touts had become more aggressive.
  • Our favorite tacos al pastor place was closed almost every day we were there (which is fine because we found a better one!).
  • Our secluded beach was packed to the brim. It made me a bit scared. How much longer before this beach is ruined?
  • More resorts had taken over the beach.
  • More boats were taking up the ocean.
  • I swear there wasn’t this many backpackers last time.
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At least we got to eat at our favorite place ONE time while we were there.

Our little gem had turned into a full blown resort town and I wasn’t sure what to think of it.

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Esquites (corn in a cup filled with AMAZINGNESS), I love you.

So when we left, we weren’t sad this time. We were ready. Had we out-grown Tulum or had Tulum out-grown us?

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In this case I can say without a doubt – the third time isn’t a charm. It was a bit disappointing.

Have you been somewhere multiple times? What did you think every time you returned?

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31 Responses to “Tulum: Third Time Isn’t a Charm”

  1. scott May 29, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    Funny that we were there within weeks of each other and since it was our first time, we only know the Tulum with 8 Oxxos and a Subway. Sorry it let you down, guys.

    • scott May 30, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      Was talking to Julia last night and totally remember that the hostel that we stayed at (not the same one you stayed at) also USED to offer free bike rentals, so I guess the times they are a changin’.

      • Erica May 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

        Seriously – nickle and diming EVERYONE. Ugh.

      • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

        CRAZY isn’t it?

  2. Thomas Dembie May 29, 2013 at 2:33 pm #

    Such a shame. Those tacos look amazing though! It still looks beautiful, but I can see how more resorts translates to a poorer experience.

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      The tacos are phenomenal… but not good enough to convince me to go back. 😛

  3. Carmel May 29, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    It was hard for me to return to Granada, Spain, after having done my study abroad there. It wasn’t that much different, but going with a different set of friends and having sky-high expectations made it really hard to return. Once I finally accepted that it would be different, the next time I was there, I was able to enjoy it a little more. It still feels like “mine” though and I have to get over that if I want other people to see why I love it so.

    Sorry it wasn’t as magical this time around.

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      I’ve returned to London 4 times now and each time I fall more in love with it. I guess because it is already established? I don’t know if I will ever go back to Tulum.

  4. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family May 30, 2013 at 4:47 am #

    Everything feels different for me now that I’m travelling with a child. When I go back to places I once loved, they now seem impossible or stressful. The places that once weren’t as appealing are where we now feel more comfortable. It’s weird. We’re about to head back to Australia for the fourth time in just over two years for that very reason. I’m sort of looking forward to it but sort of thinking I’ll be bored this time around.

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

      Oooh… I can’t wait to read about it. I’m sure things will change quite a bit for you!

  5. Maria May 30, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I find that no matter how the venue stays the same, I have changed and often enough, just enough to make it good but never quite the same. Although I will say that going with someone else can change everything as you see the place through their eyes.

    Love this post Erica – and as always you give good photo. 🙂

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

      Thank you Maria. <3

      I'm sure it would be different if I was showing someone else around. 🙂

  6. Working Gringa May 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    The first time I went to Tulum, the streets were made of sand. Tulum has certainly grown and been taken over by a hip, yoga-centric, city-escaping crowd. But its still a big beautiful beach and I think its still possible to find a quiet corner here and there. I’m not telling you where my favorite one is, of course 🙂 (and that is a change… I used to try to help promote them!). I used to not care what time of year we went there, and now I try to go in the off season. And I used to get to bring my dogs and stay on the beach… now, dogs rarely allowed 🙁

    I still love Tulum, but I definitely relate to this post. Thanks! (and thanks for following me on Twitter…nice to discover this!)

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

      I can’t imagine a time when the streets were sand! Was there an ADO station too?

      I always look forward to tweets about the Yucatan (one of my fav places) – can’t wait to see what you post!

  7. Sarah Somewhere May 30, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Ah progress… I haven’t actually experienced this yet, strangely enough, but I can understand your disappointment. Maybe if I return to Koh Tonsay in Cambodia some day and there is a 7/11 on the island I’ll be like , “WTF?!” but then I’ll be like, “Mmm…icecream!” Great photos BTW 🙂

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

      I still get sad that not all 7-11s have Slurpees.

  8. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures May 30, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    That’s so sad to hear! 🙁

  9. Sofie @ Wonderful Wanderings May 31, 2013 at 3:17 am #

    I’ve been going to London for years, but that never lets me down.
    I’ve been to Paris a couple of times, but that city had to grow on me and it was only during my last visit that I really started to like it.
    This summer I’m going back to Los Angeles and it scares the beheeviegeebies out of me. I had SUCH a great time there last year. I came home from my trip and immediately knew I would go back this year. I booked my tickets, but now I’m afraid. I don’t think my second stay will ever live up to the first one.
    Honestly, it stresses me out.

    • Erica June 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

      LONDON IS MY TOWN! I’ve been 4 times and I love it more every time!

  10. Heather May 31, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    We try to not go back to a place twice, exactly because we’re so scared of being disappointed. We’ve had it 3 ways: it was better than last time, not as good as last time, and exactly the same as last time. Being disppointed sucks, but you can always find something good even if it isn’t what you expected (like your new taco restaurant!).

  11. Beth June 3, 2013 at 4:54 pm #

    It’s really sad that things change so drastically and become more commercial. Tourism is great for the local economy, but how long before the beach gets trashed and they open up a department store owned by Wal-mart? 🙁 I felt that way the 2nd time I went to Piura, Peru. It was never touristy, but it is becoming more and more commercialized and more dangerous. It sucks 🙁 Hope you can find a new Tulum!

    • Erica June 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

      Yeah – you can’t help but be happy for everyone living there (since it brings jobs) but I still like the slower pace of things.

  12. TammyOnTheMove June 4, 2013 at 3:51 am #

    Such a shame. This is happening all over Cambodia as well. When I first came here in 2011 tuk tuk drivers and touts were really friendly. Now this is starting to change. Places that used to be a secret are now also being developed horribly and often the charm of those places disappears as a result. My favourite deserted beaches are slowly turning into Thai beaches with big resorts, airports and foreign restaurants. 🙁

    • Erica June 18, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

      I’ve seen the crazy before and after photos recently in Cambodia. SO CRAZY.

  13. Digital Nomads June 5, 2013 at 6:48 am #

    I was smiling when I start reading and ended up with a sad face! When you brought the topic of being to a place for 3 times and you know where you go, I immediately thought of our beloved country Thailand! We went there 4 times and every time with better experience.

    The problem is that tourism industry is booming everywhere, they are looking for new places and new spots. Specially wIth traveling becoming easier and less expensive and with availability of better communication tools/methods. It’s becoming easier to find new places “and ruin them” for tourists.

    • Erica June 18, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

      It makes me not want to talk about hidden gems!

  14. Andy June 9, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    Oh yeah, we’ve definitely gone back. We’ve been to Puerto Rico three times now, and while that hasn’t changed much, the tiny island off it’s coast – Vieques – has. We’ve been there twice and the second time we got married there!

    But, apparently the word had gotten out, and a team of douchey-looking East-coast realtors had shown up. This cute little place that was for sale next to our favorite guest house 9 months earlier was still on the market, but the price had gone from $39,000 to $85,000. They’re making a killing I’m sure, and business is booming there (the first real hotel was being built too), but it sure gave the island a different feel. Seeing people in Land Rovers instead of rusty Jeeps, and houses selling for a million bucks that were 250k just a year earlier, kinda ruins the quaint island paradise, you know?

    • Erica June 18, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

      My roomies just went to Puerto Rico and it was nothing like they thought it was – all resorts!

  15. andrew January 28, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    Just got back from my first trip to Tulum. I had read so many good things about the area I was really surprised when I got there that it just did’nt do it for me. I think the reason why is that Tulum felt devoid of mexican culture. It felt like someone put boulder colorado in mexico. Where was the busy plaza with hordes of locals eating paletas? The beach areas especially were devoid of me mexican culture, i expected this a little but it was seriously strange. A taxi driver told me he drives over an hour to Tulum to work every day because Tulum is too expensive. That’s telling. Tulum felt like it was attracting people that wanted a fenced off all inclusive resort but did’nt want to admit that they wanted a fenced off all inclusive resort. Im not a mexico expert but ive taken at least 5 weeklong trips in the past 10 years all to different areas. Tulum isn’t horrible but for independent travelers that appreciate mexican culture there are much better places to visit.

    • Erica February 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

      You’re preaching to the choir here Andrew lol! I think that it has some serious growing pains going on and that it is going to end up a lot more like Playa del Carmen (but with the beach WAAAAAAY out of the way). The Oxxos caught us off guard too! When the hell did THOSE pop up?! There are so many issues regarding tourism, the local job market, and locals creating locations that meet the “expectations” of higher paying clients. I love Mexico but when I’m in the Riviera Maya, I definitely do not go for the culture.

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